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View character profile for: Cassandra Jones
View character profile for: Dr Jade Black
View character profile for: Jamie Eastlick
View character profile for: Bruno Downing
View character profile for: Jason Tanaka
View character profile for: Thomas Plisken
View character profile for: Dr Richard Pornsak
View character profile for: Belvedyr 2X4B-666P
Not AgainPosted by
Posted: Nov 28, 2020, 2:41pm
The Drive Room shook violently as the Dwarf fell out of subspace. The room was dark, illuminated only by a red alert sign glowing above the main screen. It would not have been beyond the artistic flairs of the JMC to add dimmed lights during a red alert situation, just to make the reds really pop, but in this case the fuses of the overhead lighting had blown. In the corner of the room, from under Jamie’s slumped body, readouts from Engineering screamed as the reactor struggled to cope with the massive power drain the subspace drive had caused.
‘Anyone dead?’ spluttered Cass, rising from the ground with a nasty gash on her forehead where she had lost a fight with the captain’s arm rest.
‘I’m not sure, am I?’ Plisken groaned from the ground next to the weapon’s station.
‘Umf, stupid bloody subspace,’ said Jamie, muttering as he pushed his face away from the scrolling list of engineering problems.
‘Good enough. Tanaka, what about you?’
‘I am not alive, no,’ replied the hologram, ‘What did I tell you, all in one piece.’
‘Yeah? We’ll see about that. Bruno, I take it you are alive? Damage report.’
‘I think – I think –‘ stammered a voice from the Ops, ‘I think the damage report computer is damaged.’
‘Subspace damage or did they hit us?’
‘No no,’ replied Bruno, ‘My head hit the screen when we came out of subspace.’
‘Of course it did,’ sighed Cass, ‘Tanaka?’
‘Listen, it’s not my fault – have any of you tried to navigate subspace?’
‘I remember when we had to navigate subspace without the help of computers,’ said Plisken wistfully.
‘You are probably thinking of Subway, you old duffer’ Tanaka replied.
‘Tanaka!’ snapped Cass, ‘Get the navicomp up. Plisken – get us a scanner reading.’
‘The engine core is drained, we’ve barely got enough fuel to get us to the other side of the system,’ reported Jamie, ‘The diesel decks will keep emergency power going for a few days but that subspace hop emptied almost everything – the core, the fuel tanks, I’m pretty sure those triple As behind the couch are gone too.’
‘What about the ramscoop? Isn’t that meant to keep us going indefinitely?’
‘Subspace has clogged the scoop feeds. We’d need to manually scrub them before it can start taking any hydrogen in. That’s a 48-hour job at least.’
‘Long range scanners put the Fazon gunship 24 hours away,’ Plisken said, ‘They are moving fast though.’
‘What else have you got on the scanner?’ asked Cass.
‘Oh, you know, the usual. A sun, a couple of rocks and dust and a – Tanaka are you getting this?‘
‘The navicomp is saying there is a space station?’ answered Tanaka.
‘A space station? Out here?’ said Cass, unbelieving, ‘Something we need to be wearing of.’
‘No no,’ said Plisken, ‘Well, knowing out luck, probably, but the station’s registration is of human origin. Actual human, not GELF. ‘Shell Stellar’ – it’s a refuelling station.’
‘Empty – but they were designed that way. The stations were launched ahead of deep space exploration vessels for, well, refuelling. But this one is way above spec. Habitation and oxygen, a prominent science lab. This was more than just a pit stop.’
‘And it’s working? The fuelling?’
‘Should be, looks like it was hardly used. No wonder if it managed to get all the way out here. We will know better when we are closer, Ops can try do a handshake.’
‘Cass,’ Tanaka said, clacking away at the keys of the navicomp, ‘It’s only a few hours away. If we can get refuelled before the Fazon get here, we can maybe get another jump ahead.’
‘Set a course, Tanaka,’ ordered Cass without a pause. ‘Jamie get down to engineering, take Bruno with you. Let’s see if you can get us ready to go as soon as we have docked, and maybe get us some lighting.’ Cass touched the cut on her temple and winced. ‘Drive Room to Medical – Jade, can you get up here, it wasn’t a pleasant ride.’
Within the bridge of the Fazon gunship, Cardinal Valamir brooded over his crew. His gloved fingers, capped with pointed metal tips, rapped gently against the cold stone seat. The sound echoed around the room, reaching the top of high vaulted ceiling. It chilled all others in the room. From his vantage point in the command pulpit, he could see his congregation – his crew – working away, all trying not to catch his glance.
Then, someone dared speak.
‘Cardinal,’ stuttered a junior officer, ‘We are being hailed by the Basilica.’
Without speaking, Cardinal Valamir indicated with his hand to bring up the transmission. Directly in front of him was large rose window, intricate stained glass that looked out into the void of space beyond. It was then replaced by holographic figure. It was large and imposing, just the head of the great Pope bearing down on the crew.
‘Cardinal Valamir,’ rumbled the voice.
‘Sanctus,’ acknowledged Valamir, standing from his chair and providing a deep bow.
‘You disappoint me, Valamir. I provided you with the Cathedral Petrus to track down these heretics and yet you chose to fail me.’
‘Believe me, sanctus, failure was not my intention. The heretics had technology beyond our understanding. They travelled faster than we thought possible.’
‘You permit heretics to violate not only Fazon space but space of your own clan? Do the Fazon-Gothicks have no shame?’
‘Sanctus, the Fazon-Gothicks could only hope to match the holiness of the Fazon-Baroqs. We are gaining on the heretics now and will be within weapons distance soon.’
‘Bring me the heads of the heretics, Valamir.’
Within the Dwarf, the engine core vibrated violently. The last vapours of fuel were being eaten up. The ship strained and shook, threatening to tear itself apart. There was then a soft ‘clonk’ and the kettle was boiled. A long table was lined with cups, all unique and personal to the who they belonged to, or course. Like children coming in for class, the rowdy and jovial band of Dwarfers filtered into the meeting room.
‘So, another little adventure?’ smiled Pornsak, as Belvedyr poured tea into his waiting mug.
‘If by adventure you mean almost certain death, sir, then yes, I believe this will be an adventure,’ said Belvedyr as he went around the meeting table with the kettle, ‘Tea, Mistress Cass?’
‘Just coffee, Belvedyr. Now listen up, we’ve got just 20 hours to get the ship fuelled, repaired and ready to go before the Fazon get here.’
‘Just black tea for me, Belvedyr,’ said Plisken, Mog sitting on his lap purring gently, ‘We won’t survive another encounter with the Fazon. But this was refuelling station looks like it housed a research lab.’
‘And it’s not on the charts,’ added Tanaka, bringing up a map of the region, ‘None of the map updates the Dwarf received contain a station in this region.’
‘Stellar drift?’ asked Cass, ‘It could just have got here on its own.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Pornsak, analysing the map, ‘Look at the station’s orbit. It is tied to that sun. I don’t think it’s gone anywhere since it was launched.’
‘A research lab? All the way out here,’ said Plisken with a wry smile, ‘Cass, it’s got to have something interesting.’
Cass tugged at the blank band around her arm absent-mindedly. The letters OOD – officer of the day – emblazoned on them. ‘Okay, Plisken, you take Pornsak and anyone else wanting to go off and get killed. See what this station is hiding.’
‘I’d be lying if I said we weren’t already set to go,’ replied Plisken.
‘Try find some medical supplies,’ said Jade sipping on her herbal tea poured gracefully by Belvedyr, ‘We need to be ready if the Fazon catch up on us.’
‘Jamie, get some people together to get this refuelling set up. We need the subspace drive ready to go as soon as possible.’
‘I would just hesitate to mention, sirs and ma’ams,’ said Belvedyr, ‘But what do you intend to do when we subspace jump again? I can’t image there is a refuelling station in every star system.’
‘The ‘bots got a point,’ said Tanaka, gulping down some tea.
‘That’s mechanoid to you, Mr. Tanaka. I do not go around calling you a ‘gram.’
‘A gram? Do you think you will find a gram on the station?’ stuttered Bruno.
‘I wish,’ said Plisken, chewing on his pipe.
‘I had thought this would come up,’ said Jamie, ‘I’ve taken the liberty of hatching a plan B for the subspace drive. I believe if we had an AI with, say, an IQ of 6,000 we might be able to navigate subspace more efficiently and more safely. No offence, Tanaka.’
‘You mean, reactivate Holly?’ wondered Cass, ignoring Tanaka’s objections, ‘It could be dangerous.’
‘The alternative is to fight the Fazon off.’
‘I’ve assessed the weapons,’ said Plisken, ‘With some help from Jamie and all the other science-y folk, we might be able to use that clogged ram scoop as a weapon. I remember we did something similar back on the Ark Royal during the Jupiter Campaign. Aah, those were the days.’
‘Plisken,’ sighed Tanaka in frustration, ‘For the last time, you have never been in subspace. No-one has been in subspace. We were literally the first people to be in subspace.’
‘When you have lived as long as I have, Mr Tanaka, you have seen it all,’ insisted Plisken, almost drifting off into a daydream, fictional or otherwise. ‘It would be one shot though.’
‘We would need time to do it,’ said Pornsak, ‘More than the 24 hours we have right now. If we are quick and make the jump today, we might have time to ready the ram scoop.’
‘Okay, okay,’ said Cass, ‘Let’s just focused on getting refuelled first. Does anyone else need to bring anything up? Right, let’s get to work.’
‘So, imagine you are a pineapple –‘ began Pornsak as he and Plisken stalked down the empty corridors.
‘I really do not want to,’ replied Plisken, grasping his gun tightly.
‘Well what do you want to talk about? Probably about how everything was better when you were younger?’
‘Everything was better when I was younger. You kids ruined being lost in deep space with your subspace drives and your what have you. When I was your age, we had to wait decades to reach new systems while being lost in space.’
‘You talk some amount of smeg, you know that.’
Just then, interrupting them, was a sound. Some boxes crashing to the floor. Mog, perched on Plisken’s shoulder, growled softly. Plisken raised his gun and slowly moved around the pile of boxes. There, cowering in the corner, was a robot. Or, more precisely, a mechanoid.
It wasn’t like Belvedyr, or any other common mechanoid. The face was the most striking thing. It was realistic from below the eyes and down. The skin was pale and grey, clearly synthetic but at least approximated a human appearance. The eyes and above, however, was entirely replaced by a large bulky set of cameras and lenses. It was like a movie project mounted in place of where a skull should have been.
‘You - , you are not Fazon?’ stuttered the mechanoid.
‘No, we are not,’ said Plisken, keeping his gun trained on the mechanoid’s head, ‘How do you know about them?’
‘They came here once, tried to ransack the station.’
Pornstak placed a hand on Plisken’s gun and pushed down to lower it. He went down to the mechanoid’s level, the robot still cowering near the floor.
‘What happened to them?’
‘They were fought back. They didn’t stand a chance.’
Pliksen turned away and took out the vox unit from his pocket. ‘Cass,’ he said, ‘We’ve found a mechanoid of some kind.’
‘A mechanoid!’ said Belvedyr from the other end, ‘Surely you don’t need another one of those? Am I not enough?’
There was a sound of a tussle and wrestle before Cass’s voice broke over the airwaves. ‘A mechanoid?’
‘It says it knows about the Fazon, probably more than we do’
‘You better bring it back to – ‘
The vox unit cut out. Plisken tried to restart, pressing the receiver on and off, bashing it against his hand, taking the batteries out and swapping them around. Nothing.
‘Plisken, we better get out of here,’ said Pornsak. Plisken turned to face him, expecting the usual peppy optimism that grated after five minutes. It was worry that greeted him instead.
‘Oh my, they are coming, they are coming!’ exclaimed the android.
From the other side of the hallway, a humanoid form shuffled from the shadows. It seemed to have been a man but looked almost certainly dead. It had painful, cold blue skin, and bulging, blood shot eyes. From his open mouth snaked metallic cables, wrapping themselves around his body. A few of these cables hovered like cobras, probing the air as the zombified form of this man came closer and closer.
‘You’ve got one warning,’ said Plisken, raising his weapon and aiming for the figure. Mog hissed for good measure. The figure took another step without hesitation. Plisken squeezed the trigger barely after the figure’s foot landed on the ground, and a loud bang echoed through the station. The figure was punched backwards, and Plisken pulled the bolt back on his rifle. It fell to the ground, but another stepped from the shadows to replace it.
‘Did I say we should get out of here?’ asked Pornsak, ‘Because I really think we should get out of here.’
The two Dwarfers turned to come back the way they came, but a door came slamming shut in front of them.
‘Not that way then,’ sighed Plisken.
‘Here!’ shouted the android, pointing to a ventilation shaft, ‘Through here!’
‘Well,’ said Plisken, turning to face Pornsak, ‘Here we go again.’